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This Is The One: Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In

November 11, 2008

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
d. Tomas Alfredson

It’s so difficult nowadays to watch a vampire-themed show or movie and not take it too seriously — especially because we are inundated with crap stories ever since Anne Rice became the voice of vampire-themed narratives.

There’s True Blood on cable, which has its fans, but I couldn’t stand it five minutes in; for all its guff about being a fresh take on the vampire mythos, its ironic tone left me feeling bored and disconnected. And in theaters, the last vampire film may have been 30 Days and 30 Nights, which, despite its admittedly clever but gimmicky premise (how often does this happen a year, and people still live in that town? What?), ultimately disappointed with its 28 Days Later style antics.

So yeah, going into a vampire film nowadays it’s hard not to feel jaded.

But then the Swedish Let The Right One In comes along, and actually does redefine the vampire mythos while upholding its basic tenants. Vampires drink blood. Vampires cannot eat normal food. Vampires must be invited into one’s home before entering. The last tenet lends itself to the title, but in the context of the film, also carries a double meaning.

Basically, Let The Right One In tells the story of a 12 year-old Swedish boy, Oskar, bullied at school, who befriends Eli, the new girl who has moved in next door. Upon moving in, her father immediately covers up the windows with cardboard. When Oskar and Eli first meet, she is not wearing a coat despite the snow and freezing temperatures and leaps with grace from the top of a jungle gym to the ground in the project housing courtyard. “We can’t be friends,” she warns.

So of course they become friends, eventually becoming closer, sharing secret messages using Morse Code on the common wall between apartments. As events unfold in the film, and as Oskar and Eli open up to each other (ah! The double meaning of the film’s title), and this is not a surprise, Oskar discovers Eli’s true nature as a vampire. I won’t reveal the journey these two go through together, but I will say that it is worth watching this amazing movie.

What’s great about this film is that it sidesteps all the bullshit vampire cliches by making our protagonists twelve years-old (more or less, in Eli’s case); they aren’t angst ridden or self-pitying. Their relationship is uncomplicated in its naivety and sweetness, and sexuality doesn’t even enter the equation. Going steady and becoming boyfriend/girlfriend is as simple as saying it is so and does not require anything more. It is also the perfect age for the two leads because it allows them to accept each other without question.

And the two leads are excellent, giving astounding performances that are true for their characters without the creepy aftertaste you can sometimes get from Haley Joel Osment or Cameron Bright. In fact, all the child actors are brilliant. They capture the cruelty of kids perfectly (credit goes to the screenwriter as well) — when Conny bullies Oskar, or when Oskar in turn acts cruelly towards Eli upon discovering that she is a vampire.

The adult actors give fine performances as well. The actor who plays Eli’s father, plays him with such quiet pathos of having to sustain his daughter’s bloodlust while trying to avoid discovery and failing the one he loves. And, in my mind, I thought perhaps the father is not the father at all, but rather another young boy who had fallen in love with the young Eli and had grown older while she remained the same age. This would give the ending scene a hint of tragedy if it weren’t so hopeful.

The special effects are minimal but effective, and most of the drama and tension rely on strong storytelling. The cinematography is excellent, capturing the snow-covered landscape and its beauty, as well as focusing our eye on details that support the story and relay character emotion — a rack focus here and there, interesting framing throughout (especially the confrontation between Oskar and his bullies in the bathhouse toward the end). The music may be a little too dramatic, but the sound mix is very effective and compelling throughout the many stretches of scenes with little to no dialogue.

Ultimately, this film rises above many mediocre vampire films based on the strong relationship that develops between Oskar and Eli. It far surpasses the pretentious dreck that would be Interview With A Vampire and its house-wife ideas of romance, and is one of the best love stories this year. I highly recommend this film, so see it before the American remake comes out next year.

***1/2

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